Middle schoolers often get a bad rap. Adults sometimes think they are lazy, snarky and focused on nothing but their cell phones or video games.
But anyone who meets 12-year-old Symond Boschetto is not going to think along those lines for long. Boschetto, a seventh grader at Rosemont Ridge Middle School who moved to West Linn with his family from southern California three months ago, has donated food and hygiene products to over 8,000 homeless people and 40,000 cans of Play-Doh to hospitalized kids over the past four years.
Symond recalled that nearly five years ago, his family was exiting a freeway when the then 8-year-old noticed a man on the street with a sign that read, "Hungry. Need food."
"I was gonna give him the five bucks I had in my pocket but we had already passed him and so I asked my dad, 'Why are they homeless?' and he said, 'Well it's a long story. There's things that happen like they don't pay rent or they get kicked out and they end up living on the street,'" Symond said. "That night, we got Share Hope started."
Share Hope USA is the nonprofit founded by Symond and run by him, his dad, mom and sister. The main focus of Share Hope USA is helping the homeless, primarily with personal hygiene kits.
A few years ago, Symond also began collecting Play-doh for sick kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
"We were thinking of giving them Hot Wheels race cars and colored pencils and all those but they said, 'We need Play-Doh,' and we asked, 'Why Play-Doh?' and they said, 'It's the only thing they can't disinfect. So, when kids touch it and play with it, they can keep it forever,'" Symond recalled. (Since it can't disinfect Play-doh, the hospital either throws it away or give it to the child who played with it, so it goes through a lot of it.).
Over the past three years, he has collected Play-Doh donations from dozens of schools in the Los Angeles area. Rosemont Ridge has already agreed to help him with next year's Play-Doh drive in May.
The nonprofit the family founded, Share Hope USA, also encourages youth activism through its Youth Ambassador program. Through the ambassador program, Share Hope USA helps kids with their own ideas for charity events organize the events, Symond explained.
He recalled one youth ambassador, a 6-year-old girl who wanted to start a flashlight drive for the homeless. Symond's dad, Russell Boschetto, said the program helps kids understand that no matter how young they are, they make a difference.
The elder Boschetto said Share Hope USA is also looking to take on a new cause, possibly education around bullying or child sex-trafficking.
In four years the Boschetto's have grown Share Hope USA to the point that they had around 20 volunteers at each event and earned contributions from dozens of businesses and organizations as well as hundreds of individuals.
While Share Hope USA continues to host charity drives and events in southern California, it hopes to grow similarly in the Portland area.
Their first event in the Portland area is a hygiene products drive for the Good Neighbor Center, a homeless shelter in Tigard.
Symond said he's already received help with the drive from the West Linn Walmart and Safeway and two local Target stores, as well as his youth group with the Southlake Church. They plan to take hygiene kits to the shelter Nov. 6.
Russell Boschetto said they try to make the donation process as easy as possible, so monetary donations can be made at Share Hope USA's website. The website also has information on where to send hygiene products. Russell Boschetto added that they will also drive anywhere within reason to pick up supplies from donors.
Symond puts so much time and effort into helping the homeless because he sees them as actual people — not just statistics representing a regional concern.
"Once you get to know them, they treat you like they know you and like they're almost like family and friends," Symond said. "The people we worked with in California, they watched me grow up and we would go every month and so they knew me."
Russell Boschetto said that of the countless times they've been to homeless camps in the LA area, they've never had a bad experience.
"We're unique in the sense that a lot of our volunteers are families with children because he's a child and that attracts other kids his age to come and do things. We're really particular about the places we go to when we go to the homeless," Russell Boschetto said. "It has to be open. It has to be safe. It has to have parking close by. It has to be really safe for families to feel comfortable taking their kids. If we didn't do that, we'd lose a lot of our volunteers."
That's one of the reasons they chose to start by visiting and donating to Portland area shelters. Through the shelters, you connect with people who are going out to homeless camps and can show you where to go and not to go when visiting the camps, Russell Boschetto explained.
Even though Symond may be too young to fully understand the difference he's made for others, his dad had seen it. And it's incredible, he says.
"In LA, we had a fundraiser and he had a homeless lady come up to him — well she wasn't homeless anymore — but she came up to him and said, 'Are you Symond?' and he said, 'Yeah.' And she goes, 'I got myself off of drugs and off the street because of you, because you were 8 years old and you were feeding me,'" Russell Boschetto recounted.
This compassion has always been a part of who Symond is, his dad added.
"He always sees everything through his heart. He doesn't really see things through his eyes, which has allowed him, from a very young age, to be mindful of his surroundings," Russell Boschetto said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.